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CHARLES BIRD KING    1785-1862

Charles Bird King was born in Newport, Rhode Island in 1785, the only child of a sea captain. Before he was four years old, King’s father had been killed by Indians in Ohio. King received an inheritance that allowed him to study art and be financially independent throughout his life. Little is known of King’s formal education; but it is known that he cultivated a taste for literature and art through frequent visits to the Redwood Library and Athenaeum, established in Newport in 1747. King, a member of the Moravian Church in Newport, also benefitted from the atmosphere of religious freedom, cultural liberalism, and natural beauty that made Newport attractive to so many artists of his day, among them, John Smibert, Robert Feke, Joseph Blackburn, John Singleton Copley, Gilbert Stuart, Samuel King, Edward Greene Malbone, and Washington Allston. King received his first lessons in drawing and painting from Samuel King, a maker of navigational instruments and portrait painter. At age fifteen, Charles ran away to New York City where he apprenticed in the studio of Edward Savage, portraitist, miniaturist, engraver, and promoter of exhibitions. King returned to Newport in 1805, but soon sailed for London, where he stayed from 1805 to 1812 and for part of that time shared rooms and a studio with Thomas Sully with whom he began a life-long friendship. King studied with Benjamin West at the Royal Academy from 1806 to1812. King returned to America, establishing a studio in Philadelphia. He moved again to Richmond, and then Baltimore before settling permanently in Washington, D.C. in 1819. Once in Washington, King became the leading resident portrait painter, completing an average of three to four portraits a month. His subjects were the elite of Washington society and politics, as well as visiting dignitaries. Among them were: Secretary of State John Quincy Adams; Secretary of War John C. Calhoun; Speaker of the House Henry Clay; Governor William Coddington; Senator and Mrs. John G. Forsyth; General Andrew Jackson; Marquis de Lafayette; President James Madison; Lieutenant Nathaniel Hazard Perry; Congressman Daniel Webster; and President James Monroe. King also painted copies of images of historic personages, such as Christopher Columbus and Hernando Cortez, and made a series of self-portraits. Beginning in 1822-23, King began to buy properties in Washington and built a substantial house with galleries to display his impressive art collection and a studio. King remained in Washington for the rest of his life, leaving only during the summers to visit relatives and friends in and around Newport. Besides portraits, King also painted still-lifes, trompe l’oeils, genre and historical subjects. He is best known, however, for his series of portraits of distinguished Native Americans. King spent sixteen years completing one hundred and forty-three paintings of members of a five-tribe delegation, invited to the Capitol in 1821. These include: Creek Chief Apauly-Tustennugee; Hayne Hudjihini, wife of Ottoe Chief Shaumonekusse; Sauk Chief Keokuk; Iowa Chief Moanahonga; Pawnee Chief Peskelechaco; Great Pawnee Chief Sharitarish; and Potawatomi Chief Wabaunsee. King’s originals were destroyed in the 1865 fire at the Smithsonian Institution. Fortunately, copies exist, some made by King himself, others oil copies by Henry Inman made in the 1830s, as well as lithographs made from Inman’s oils.

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